We are heading to South Africa, to a place with an infamous history that has become a historic site. This is the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for years. Robben Island, or the island of the Seals, is today a World Heritage Site and also a museum.
This enclave has been a jail since Dutch settlers arrived in the 17th century.. It is believed that Vasco de Gama was the first settler who set foot on the island. It has also housed a mental institution, a leper hospital, a quarantine place for animals and a military base.
Robben Island is today a tourist center that can be reached from Cape Town by ferry. The prison is a museum and the tour is guided by an old prisoner He spent a good time in it. Another of the tours More attractive is the tour of the rest of the island, visiting the port of Murray Bay.
It is also the refuge of a flora and fauna of great interest and the museum itself is responsible for its conservation. There are hundreds of bird species and antelopes on Robben Island.
The first "guests"Prison entrance
You have news of some members of a local family They were the first to have contact with European settlers. Those acted as interpreters and also as a commercial link with the native population of the place.
Krotoa was a woman who married a settlerHe learned several European languages and acted as an interpreter with the locals around 1655. A relative of his had done the same thing before and it seems that they both ended up going through the Robben Island jail. It is said that it was due to problems with alcohol.
But nevertheless, most of those imprisoned on the island were indigenous leaders who opposed Dutch colonialism. One of them was a Cape Town imam who was imprisoned and died in jail. There is a monument that remembers it. Even today this is a place of pilgrimage for South African Muslims.
A century later there was another historical event involving the Robben Island jail. A slave ship suffered a mutiny by the Malagasy. Its two main leaders were imprisoned on the island.
There were also Europeans imprisoned in Robben Island, political leaders. But many of them have been tribal chiefs fighting against the Dutch and British invasion.
Leprosarium and World War IIPrison interior - jeremy Seto / Flickr.com
Robben island began to be used to isolate leprosy patients in 1845, although in the first years the sick were not held there. However, in 1892 they were already banned from leaving the island.
Already in the twentieth century, during World War II, the island housed heavy anti-aircraft batteries and it was converted into a great fortification. These elements can still be visited today in one of the tours touring Robben Island
Robben Island and the aparheidInterior of a cell
In the 60s of the 20th century Robben Island became a maximum security prison with a strict prison regime. There they were systematically sent to leaders of black South African communities. Among them, activists Patrick Chamuso and Govan Mbeki, the father of the South African president.
Robben Island's most famous political prisoner was Nelson Mandela. He was held there 18 of the 28 years in prison to which he was sentenced. He arrived at this prison on May 27, 1963.
Throughout my life I have dedicated myself to this struggle for the African people. I have fought against white domination, but also against black domination. I have longed for the ideal of a free and democratic society, in which all people can live together, in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live and I hope to achieve. But if necessary, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
When he arrived on the island his destiny was to die there. But Nelson Mandela left Robben Island in March 1982 to be transferred to Pollsmoor prison.
During the time he spent on the island he lived like any other political prisoner of those arriving from South Africa and Namibia. Small cells with a small cement patio and a bucket of water. The Robben Island prison regime was intended to punish and humiliate to the leaders of the black movement.
Robben Island has gone to posterity as a cursed place. A small enclave that accumulates suffering and injustices alike and that It has been left as a legacy and an example of what cannot happen again.